The first in a crime fiction series set in Regency London, which features as its narrator and hero an injured Peninsular Wars veteran, Captain Gabriel Lacey, this novel seemed like it would be a good read. Sadly, my expectations were not met.
The novel has a number of problems. One is the character of Captain Lacey. He is yet another detective (using the word in its broadest sense) with "issues", including his gammy leg, his impecuniousness, his conflict with an old friend and comrade, his messed-up relationships with women and his "melancholia". It seems to me that he has too many problems to make him an effective detective. The melancholia is his biggest personal difficulty and in theory it should have made him a sympathetic character. However, it had the opposite effect on me. I have no problem with the idea of Captain Lacey suffering from depression and I take no issue with the condition being called melancholia. However, I started getting irritated when the word appeared four times in the same paragraph.
Another problem is the language. The prose is clunky and the dialogue clunkier. Gardner had the characters - including genteel female characters - use language which I doubt would have been used in the period in which the novel is set. In fact, apart from the very occasional reference to an historical event (the approaching marriage of Princess Charlotte, for example) and some geographical references, relatively little attempt is made to locate the novel within its place and time. I neither wanted nor expected bucketloads of period detail. However, I did expect an early 19th century London "feel", which this novel didn't deliver.
The plot has some good ideas, with a few red herrings thrown in for good measure, but it took a long time to become interesting. While the pace picks up eventually, the novel never becomes a page turner. I finished reading it because, well, that's generally what I do. And I did start to become marginally more interested in how the mystery aspect of the novel was going to be resolved. However, I don't see myself bothering with the next book in the series. For anyone keen to read crime fiction set in Regency London, I think that C.S. Harris's Sebastian St Cyr novels are better than this offering. Although frankly, that's not saying a great deal, as I have some deep reservations about that series as well. I should probably stick to Georgette Heyer romances if I want a dose of the Regency and go elsewhere to satisfy my taste for crime fiction.